Did your monthly visitor fail to show? Is Aunt Flo late to the party? Many women worry when this happens that something is wrong.
Maybe you are pregnant despite using birth control, or maybe something is amiss with your body.
Understanding how your body works will make it easier to understand exactly why your period is late. In most cases, a missed period while on contraception is not something to worry about.
What Causes a Missed Period?
As Dr. JA Owen explains, the female body goes through several changes over the course of a month. After your period ends, estrogen levels increase sharply.
They then drop off sharply just before ovulation, which is when your body releases an egg to be fertilized.
Hormonal birth control is made to stop this cycle. Most women using hormonal birth control receive a steady daily dose of female hormones and thus never ovulate.
After ovulation, estrogen and progesterone levels both increase slowly, with progesterone rising more quickly. This helps the body to build up a lining in the uterus that would allow an embryo to implant.
If an embryo does not implant, hormone levels fall sharply. The lining is shed, which is what causes our periods. The cycle then begins again.
Every month our bodies prepare for a pregnancy and then start over from scratch, in a process called a menstrual cycle.
Menstrual cycles are not necessary for a woman’s health. They only exist to help support a pregnancy. Although pregnancy is the most common and best-known reason to skip a period, there are many other potential causes.
How Does Birth Control Work?
There are several different kinds of contraceptive. The most common kinds are hormonal. These are the most likely types to cause a missed period.
Hormonal birth control, which includes the pill as well as a variety of other kinds, gives your body a steady dose of hormones.
This prevents the dips in estrogen that cause ovulation. If your body is not releasing eggs, you cannot get pregnant.
In addition, the steady daily dose of hormones can stop uterine lining from building up. In fact, many women take hormonal contraceptives to treat heavy periods. Most hormonal contraceptives will make periods lighter and less painful.
There are several reasons that a woman may miss a period even while using birth control. The following questions will help you to figure out exactly what is causing your late or absent monthly cycle.
Are Missed Periods a Side Effect of Your Birth Control?
Many types of birth control can cause very light or even missed periods. These include several different kinds of hormonal contraception.
Hormonal IUDs such as Mirena and Kyleena are the most likely to stop your period. Your menstrual cycles are caused by changes in the levels of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
IUDs release a steady dose of hormones continuously, so they often will stop your cycles – and your periods – completely.
Other types of hormonal birth control such as the pill, patch, intravaginal ring, and implant can have similar effects.
Dr. Anthony Pizarro notes that women often have very light periods when using these types of contraception. Some women only have spotting or no periods at all.
If you are taking one of these types of birth control and missed a period, it is important to call your doctor. They can tell you if this is a common side effect of your type of birth control and reassure you that this is completely normal.
Are You Under More Stress?
When we are stressed out, our bodies release biochemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. These, in turn, can affect levels of other hormones.
As a result, some women may miss a period or develop irregular cycles when they are under immense amounts of stress.
Many people do not realize how much stress they are under until they develop physical symptoms such as late or missed periods.
If you have had family problems, a lot of demands at work or school, or a very busy schedule, your body will eventually start feeling the effects.
Stress can be destructive to your health in a variety of ways, interfering not just with monthly cycles but with cardiovascular health and mental well-being.
If you feel you are stressed out a lot, yoga, meditation, and other stress reduction strategies may help to balance your hormonal cycles. A doctor or therapist can help you to find what works best for you.
Have You Changed Your Diet?
With a large portion of people in the Western world struggling with being overweight or obese, many are trying to lose weight. There are many diet plans to help support this, some recommending extreme changes in food intake.
While getting more fit is usually a good health decision, losing weight too fast can have a variety of health effects.
Women who lose weight too quickly from extreme calorie restriction often see a temporary change in their menstrual cycles, which can include missing periods altogether.
If you continue to lose weight too quickly, your periods may stop altogether and not return until you eat more calories.
If you have recently lost weight quickly, this is likely the cause of your missed period. Losing weight in a slow and sustainable way will bring back your monthly visitor and help you to feel healthier overall.
Have You Started a New Exercise Regimen?
Ballet dancers, marathon runners, and other athletes often do not have periods. As Dr. Michelle Warren notes in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, extreme levels of exercise can affect levels of female hormones and block menstrual cycles.
Exercising for hours a day also can lead to low body fat. Because many female hormones are produced in fat cells, this can lower hormonal levels to a point where they no longer support normal menstrual cycles.
Getting exercise is usually a healthy choice. However, excessive exercise can be bad for your health. Missing periods is one of the milder effects, so be sure you are exercising within reason. Start slowly to prevent injuries and other health effects.
Do You Have Signs of a Hormonal Imbalance?
There are several health problems that can cause missed periods. PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is the most common health disorder to cause this.
You may have PCOS if you have weight gain, acne, abnormal hair growth, and abdominal pain in addition to irregular or missed periods.
This YouTube video from HealthSignz explains how PCOS affects your health. If allowed to go untreated, PCOS can contribute to diabetes, infertility, and a wide array of disorders. Early treatment can prevent these unpleasant and unhealthy effects.
Hypothyroidism is another disease that can cause missed periods. Thyroid hormone keeps your metabolism high.
If your body is not making enough of this hormone, you may notice weight gain, fatigue, constipation, dry skin, hair loss, and missed periods. A simple blood test can tell you if you have this disease.
Many disorders that cause missed periods can be easily treated. If you continue to have missed periods even when on birth control along with other symptoms, a doctor can help to diagnose and treat any underlying disorders.
Have You Been Sick Recently?
Common illnesses such as the flu can interfere with your menstrual cycles. They put your body under stress, which can delay periods. In addition, you may not eat as much while you are sick, which can cause you to miss a period.
A period that is missed due to illness will often start again next month. You can call your doctor if you are concerned there are other factors at play, such as pregnancy or a hormonal disorder.
If you have been so sick that your monthly cycles stop, taking care of yourself is crucial. Drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy gentle foods such as chicken soup until you feel completely recuperated. Your period should return on schedule next month.
Are You Taking Medications That Can Cause Amenorrhea?
Amenorrhea is the medical term for your periods stopping. Some medications cause this as a side effect.
Many drugs increase secretion of a hormone called prolactin. According to Dr. Hee-Cheol Kim of the Keimyoung School of Medicine, these include certain antipsychotic drugs, antihypertensives (medications that lower blood pressure), and certain medications used for heartburn.
People who have high levels of prolactin may also notice increased breast growth and milk production in addition to late or missed periods.
Certain types of chemotherapy also can cause periods to stop. They interfere with the function of certain types of cells, which can cause a variety of effects.
If you are taking chemotherapy for cancer or an autoimmune disease, this may be the cause of your missed periods.
If you are taking a medication that causes amenorrhea and other symptoms, you should decide if the medication is worth the side effects.
If not, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you to find an alternative medication that does not have these side effects.
It is important to continue taking your medication until you have a new treatment plan. Many drugs that cause missed periods can have serious withdrawal effects if stopped suddenly.
Are You Starting Menopause?
Also known as the change of life, menopause is when your periods permanently stop at the end of your reproductive years. Most women go through menopause eventually, around age 50. However, beginning menopause in your forties is common.
In addition, some women have a health disorder called premature ovarian failure, in which they go through menopause before age 40.
This causes your monthly cycles to stop, leading to missed periods and infertility. While there is no cure for this, there are treatments that can delay menopause for a few months or years.
Women who are going through premature ovarian failure or menopause have a variety of symptoms. In addition to missed periods, you may also notice hot flashes, decreased libido, vaginal dryness, and mood swings. Your doctor can help you find ways to live with these symptoms.
If you do not wish to have a child, you should continue using birth control until your periods have been completely gone for a year. Although people going through menopause are less fertile, a woman can conceive in rare cases.
Have You Had a Hysterectomy?
A hysterectomy is a surgery that removes your uterus. In some cases, doctors remove ovaries or other tissues as well.
Your uterus is where the uterine lining that will become your menstrual flow builds up every month. Without this lining, periods are simply impossible. If you recently have had a hysterectomy, your periods will stop immediately.
Are You Pregnant?
Getting pregnant while using birth control is very rare. However, it is always possible if you are sexually active. If you missed one day of your pills or received your shot even a day late, you could be pregnant.
If this is a possibility, you should immediately take a home pregnancy test. Because false negatives are possible early in a pregnancy, you should also stop using alcohol or recreational drugs and immediately start taking a vitamin with folic acid.
These steps are especially important if you develop other signs of pregnancy, which include:
- Sore breasts
- Nausea and vomiting, especially in the mornings
- Aches in your pelvis and lower back
If you continue to feel pregnant and your period does not start after a few days, you should see a doctor. They can perform blood tests which are more accurate than the urine tests found at drug stores.
The Bottom Line on Missed Periods
Missed periods are most often due to pregnancy. If a woman is on birth control, however, there is likely another cause.
While missed periods are usually not a cause for concern, it is important to get medical care. Determining the cause of your missed periods and treating it will ensure that your monthly cycles continue and that you enjoy optimum health.